KAIST (President Kwang Hyung Lee) announced on that a research team led by Professor Hae-Won Park of the Department of Mechanical Engineering developed a quadrupedal walking robot that can move at high speed on steel walls and ceilings named MARVEL, rightly so as it is a magnetically adhesive robot for versatile and expeditious locomotion.” as described in their paper “Agile and Versatile Climbing on Ferromagnetic Surfaces with a Quadrupedal Robot.”
To make this happen, Professor Park’s research team developed a foot sole that can quickly turn the magnetic adhesive force on and off while retaining high adhesive force even on an uneven surface through the use of the Electro-Permanent Magnet (EPM), a device that can turn the electromagnetic force on and off with little power, and the Magneto-Rheological Elastomer (MRE), an elastic material made by mixing a magnetic response factor such as iron powder with an elastic material such as rubber, which they mounted on a small quadrupedal robot they made in-house, at their own laboratory. These walking robots are expected to be put into a wide variety of usage, including being programmed to perform inspections, repairs, and maintenance tasks on large structures made of steel, such as ships, bridges, transmission towers, large storages, and construction sites.
This study, in which Seungwoo Hong and Yong Um of the Department of Mechanical Engineering participated as co-first authors, was published as the cover paper in the December issue of Science Robotics.
Existing wall-climbing robots use wheels or endless tracks, so their mobility is limited on surfaces with steps or irregularities. On the other hand, walking robots for climbing can expect improved mobility in obstacle terrain, but have disadvantages in that they have significantly slower moving speeds or cannot perform various movements.
In order to enable fast movement of the walking robot, the sole of the foot must have strong adhesion force and be able to control the adhesion to quickly switch from sticking to the surface or to be off of it. In addition, it is necessary to maintain the adhesion force even on a rough or uneven surface.
To solve this problem, the research team used the EPM and MRE for the first time in designing the soles of walking robots. An EPM is a magnet that can turn on and off the electromagnetic force with a short current pulse. Unlike general electromagnets, it has the advantage that it does not require energy to maintain magnetic force. The research team proposed a new EPM with a rectangular structure arrangement, enabling faster switching while significantly lowering the voltage required for switching compared to existing electromagnets.
In addition, the research team was able to increase the frictional force without significantly reducing the magnetic force of the sole by covering the sole with an MRE. The proposed sole weighs only 169 g, but provides a vertical gripping force of about *535 Newtons (N) and a frictional force of 445 N, which is sufficient gripping force for a quadrupedal robot weighing 8 kg.
* 535 N converted to kg is 54.5 kg, and 445 N is 45.4 kg. In other words, even if an external force of up to 54.5 kg in the vertical direction and up to 45.4 kg in the horizontal direction is applied (or even if a corresponding weight is hung), the sole of the foot does not come off the steel plate.
MARVEL climbed up a vertical wall at high speed at a speed of 70 cm per second, and was able to walk while hanging upside down from the ceiling at a maximum speed of 50 cm per second. This is the world’s fastest speed for a walking climbing robot. In addition, the research team demonstrated that the robot can climb at a speed of up to 35 cm even on a surface that is painted, dirty with dust and the rust-tainted surfaces of water tanks, proving the robot’s performance in a real environment. It was experimentally demonstrated that the robot not only exhibited high speed, but also can switch from floor to wall and from wall to ceiling, and overcome 5-cm high obstacles protruding from walls without difficulty.
The new climbing quadrupedal robot is expected to be widely used for inspection, repair, and maintenance of large steel structures such as ships, bridges, transmission towers, oil pipelines, large storage areas, and construction sites. As the works required in these places involves risks such as falls, suffocation and other accidents that may result in serious injuries or casualties, the need for automation is of utmost urgency.
One of the first co-authors of the paper, a Ph.D. student Yong Um of KAIST’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, said, “By the use of the magnetic soles made up of the EPM and MRE and the non-linear model predictive controller suitable for climbing, the robot can speedily move through a variety of ferromagnetic surfaces including walls and ceilings, not just level grounds. We believe this would become a cornerstone that will expand the mobility and the places of pedal-mobile robots can venture into.” He added, “These robots can be put into good use in executing dangerous and difficult tasks on steel structures in places like the shipbuilding yards.”
This research was carried out with support from the National Research Foundation of Korea’s Basic Research in Science & Engineering Program for Mid-Career Researchers and Korea Shipbuilding & Offshore Engineering Co., Ltd..